#907: “My hyper-vigilant work bully is bringing up all my old issues about being watched & judged.”

Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,

I recently accepted a position in a line of work that is brand new for me, exciting, mentally stimulating, and will enable me to finally be financially stable. This is all great.


Except for one co-worker, a trainee who was hired on at the same time as me and is in the same stage of training.

This co-worker has a bad habit of openly watching me and waiting for me to screw something up. Then she loves to make a big deal about it and “correct” my errors. Laughs loudly and points it out to the senior techs.

I realize that this is not a big deal. But, I have some issues with being watched. Growing up, my mom threatened my siblings and me with hiding cameras in the house to make sure we weren’t “sinning” or doing anything wrong while both parents were gone (we were latchkey kids, and I was the authority on site, as oldest kid). She was just off enough that we believed her. It created an environment of deep suspicion and paranoia growing up.

I was recently diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder as well. So being watched with the obvious intent to catch me screwing up + being around strange people in general= a perpetually nervous me. I am very competent and have historically received high reviews on my work… as long as I wasn’t being micro-managed or stared at.

Obviously I don’t want the anxiety she gives me to translate into actual poor performance. I really enjoy this job. It involves animals, who are naturally more receptive to hyper-aroused states in their human handlers. I don’t want my anxiety translating into anxiety for them.

I’m working on the anxiety and self esteem issues with my therapist, as well as dealing with the weird shit left over from my past.

What I need help with is a script or scripts for dealing with this co-worker. Polite requests to allow my trainer to train me and correct any errors have been met with complete brush-offs and stories of what an amazing manager/student/daughter/sister she is, which clearly makes her more qualified to police me.


Visibly Anxious

Dear Visibly:

Your history at home sounds godawful (YOUR MOM, HOLY SHIT) and nerve-wracking and you are handling it like a boss by seeking the help you need and being aware when outside factors are intersecting with that old history. The other tech’s behavior is bad enough on its own – it’s not some flaw in you that is making you have an outsized reaction.

I feel comfortable saying: This person is an asshole who is acting like your enemy. She has somehow sussed out a tender spot and is digging her claws into it for all she’s worth to make her feel better about herself. If you’re looking for permission to feel angry and annoyed at her, you’ve got it.

You already used Script #1: “Please let the trainer handle correcting me” so it’s time for Script #2: “I’m sure you are the greatest. It’s not a competition and you are not my mentor, so give me some space,” and Script #3: “Knock it off. It’s annoying and uncalled for.”

It’s the trainer’s job to teach both the skills and the expectations for how to behave at the job. Has the trainer noticed any of her behavior? Because if being more direct/less polite don’t work, escalate it.

Script #4: “Trainer, Coworker likes to stare at me when I’m doing a procedure and then call out my errors to the senior techs. It’s making me very uncomfortable and I feel like I’m more prone to errors when she’s so focused on me, which is bad for the animals. I’ve asked her to stop directly, and she hasn’t, so I am at the point where I’d like to start documenting it with management. The behavior feels very hostile on her part and I’d like it to stop, immediately.”

It’s extremely possible the Trainer will say, “You’re doing great. Just ignore her.”

That sounds unhelpful in the extreme, but one thing it really means is, “I know the problem is not you. Keep doing what you are doing and I’ll tell you if you screw up.”

Advanced Move: Consider also, when she’s about to do her thing, stopping what you’re doing and waiting until she moves away. Put your tools down, and quietly wait. If she’s the kind of uncomfortable-with-silence person I think she is, she’ll notice that you’ve stopped and ask you what you’re waiting for. You can answer, “For you, to give me some space like I asked” or you can stay silent and let it get more and more awkward until she says something rude and/or storms off (this is a win, even if what she says is really hostile). This will only work if you think you can actually outwait her. 

If she doesn’t learn, continue telling annoying her, “A little space, please?” and when she tells the senior techs about your doings, consider throwing out “My sandwich today is tuna salad if you’re keeping notes on that, too.”

Continue documenting.
Continue reporting.

Continue unpacking mental health & childhood stuff with your therapist. Continue being great at your job that you enjoy.

Some people just need to be TOLD. She is one of them. It’s not you. May your training end soon and may management have the wisdom to separate you.


81 thoughts on “#907: “My hyper-vigilant work bully is bringing up all my old issues about being watched & judged.”

  1. Holy moly. I worked in an environment where every Monday morning there was a meeting to go over every thing I did wrong the week prior and it completely weakened me. I quit with little warning and I’m still dealing with the mental toll it took over a year later.

    However, the thing that would have helped is if I had a supervisor on my side. I would definitely urge you to do what the Cap suggests and let your trainer know there is an issue (and if there is someone over you that you trust, that person as well). I think it’s super important to have the backing of the people who see your job performance so that additional stress also does not weigh on you since fighting that battle on all fronts is exhausting and horrible.

    I’m so sorry you are stuck with this awful person. I’m sending support.

    1. A supervisor and/or one of the senior techs if any of them seem receptive. Even approaching one of the techs and asking for feedback or support. Odds are there is at least one person who has noticed something, even if it is just that hypercritical tech trainee seems to think she knows it all. Someone is probably rolling their eyes when the critique comes

    2. Supervisor on your side defo makes all the difference. I once worked (mercifully briefly) with a fellow trainee who, if I made a mistake, called me out on it loudly and obnoxiously, and if she made a mistake called me out for not noticing it and correcting her. Literally couldn’t win. It ended when a supervisor noticed and summed it up as,

      “Not her job to notice your mistakes. And not your job to notice hers.”

      I had to repeat that to her once or twice following in the absence of the supervisor, and then she dropped out before the end of the training anyhow saying “There were too many rules to follow.” eesh…..

      1. I think this also gives an opportunity to ask the manager whether it is the best use of resources for Co-Worker/Trainee 2 to invest time in overseeing the LW/Trainee 1. I’m assuming hired at the same time and same point in their training means equitable levels/responsibilities within the organization. Regardless of whether #2 can produce fewer, the same, or more utils in the same time as the LW, isn’t that where #2 should spend his/her time?

  2. Dear LW, I echo the captain’s words about how awesome you are to have owned your own issues and work on them, and I agree with her one hundred percent that your co-worker is a jerk. It’s not you. It’s them.

    I think her scripts are great.

    Something similar but much more low-stakes happened to me years ago — when I was studying a martial art, one of my friends in the class started being a real busybody and taking it upon themself to coach me. The hilarious thing was that they were at my level or below in the class and they really could not have helped me much even if I wanted them to.

    I nipped it in the bud by stating baldly, and only so they could hear, not yelling it out or anything, “You’re not my coach,” and ignoring them. Hearing them call out orders to me and bark at me about my mistakes was so annoying, but after I said my sentence a few times, they stopped. We actually became friends and socialized sometimes because our kids were friends.

    I don’t know what the real coach would have done eventually, but bluntness did work.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. I get that all the time in martial arts. If the person I’m training with is my rank or lower, I respond with, “I’m sure you don’t realize, but what you’re doing is rude.” If the person outranks me but doesn’t outrank the teacher leading the class, I say, “Don’t correct me during class.”

      Also, when I teach, I watch for that shit and will stand near the mansplainer and watch him, so he shuts up.

      1. Or sometimes, if the person is high ranked or important I’ll say, “Let’s train in silence.”

      2. This is part of what caused me to leave my martial arts studio back in the day. If someone outranked you (including if they had the same belt but were higher than you in the line) they could always correct you. Always. And you were not allowed to respond back with anything other than polite thanks or perhaps a clarifying question. This resulted sometimes in the higher ranks wandering around while we were holding certain positions for strength training, and literally having them each walk by, adjust my position, and then I’d stay like that until the next person walked by and readjusted it. Sometimes the original person would come back by again and correct me a third time to what they’d said the first time. And we couldn’t. Say. Anything. To heck with that.

        1. *shudder* That would be fine if people weren’t douchebags, but…

          Honestly, I loved (Seido) karate when I was a teenager and found muay thai strangely unstructured at first. Now I’m used to it I don’t think I could deal with a more formal environment any more. I’ve done a little Judo but at clubs that quite competition focussed it tends to be less formal, and now BJJ is more of a thing there are a bunch of MMA clubs popping up that are low on status-driven stuff.

  3. I got hired last year to a new training intensive job, with this guy at the same time. He clock watched me for when I came and went. (We are salary, it really doesn’t matter, and the office environment isn’t strict, AND I’m super on time every freaking day.) He would look over into my cube, and check out my work regular. He would find a way to bring up any of the shortcomings he thought I had.

    I’m male, so I utilized the toxic masculinity dynamics on my side. I started with “Shouldn’t you focus on your one work?” “Are you really logging my time in and out every day?” and had to escalate to “You are a dick, dude. Why would you say that?” Then I left him in silence. I had to do this multiple times, “Are you being a dick again?”

    As was said, your watcher isn’t your friend. They are your enemy. So was mine. Good people don’t do that to others. A year later, I learned that everyone was watching what he did to me, and thought he was a dick, and he has been kind of ostracized in the office.

    I’m not saying being aggressive and rude is always the answer, but sometimes, you have to make a social situation so not fun for that kind of bully, that they won’t want to deal with you again. Bully’s like to pick on people they perceive as targetable.

    I’ve utilized this tactic over the years very sparingly. It’s worked because they don’t want to deal with an aggressive person. I hate doing it, but I hate being bullied more.

  4. First thought: how does the other trainee have time to watch the LW? Doesn’t she have her own work to be getting on with?

    Second thought: the other trainee is deeply insecure about her own work (especially in comparison to the LW’s) and so is trying to pick out the LW’s mistakes to make herself feel better, as well as trying to throw the LW off his/her game. This in no way excuses her behavior, but if the LW thinks that this might be a plausible reason for it, s/he might be able to find coping mechanisms based on it.

    For instance, maybe the next time the LW notices the coworker staring, the LW narrates the work s/he’s doing, as if s/he’s providing supplementary instructions to the coworker. The coworker will either be grateful for the information (unlikely) or is bound to get annoyed and insist that she knows how to do this stuff, to which the LW can say, “Oh, I thought you were watching me because you didn’t understand the instructions we were given. I’m happy to show you if you want,” and keep explaining the work until the coworker stops staring and goes back to her own work.

    Good luck, LW!

    1. See also: “Oh, did you need some help with this? Let me get Supervisor!” LW comes off as friendly and supportive of coworker while acquiring for themselves a buffer of authority. If coworker protests that they don’t need help, LW can say “I’m sorry, I obviously misunderstood the reason you were standing there staring at me. Was there something else you needed?” Level up if those last words can be said in front of the supervisor.

    2. Oooh this point raises such a fun little option for if snarkiness turns out to be an appropriate avenue for dealing with LW’s Watcher.

      LW: Doing a Thing
      Watcher: You’re doing it wrong, let me-”
      LW: “If you’ve run out of work again, you don’t have to get involved in mine. I’m sure Supervisor will have plenty you could be helping out with.”

      Yes it’s not nice. Neither is The Watcher.

    3. I once had a summer job in a town department working individually with another student worker, who also enjoyed telling me I was doing things wrong- the first day, I was apparently not shovelling dirt out of the bed of our pick up truck the “right” way. so I hopped out of the bed, propped myself up on my shovel, and said, “well, it’s great that you’re such an expert, then! you can show me how it should be done. I’ll just watch for today”. And I watched him empty the bed of dirt on his own for the rest of the afternoon.

      I don’t recommend this if you enjoy your job and want to actually learn and do well! but I will admit it felt great.

      *I quit after a week, because this wasn’t the position, or even department, I’d actually applied for- sent my resume in for an admin position with the records department, but parks and rec somehow got it and interviewed me, I was a fool for accepting their offer!

  5. Three weeks ago my son got in trouble at school. Apparently the kids in class were doing some kind of computer exercise and they were supposed to use their full names (no nicknames). A classmate wrote her name in nickname form. My son noticed that she did this and pointed out her mistake. She shrugged it off. He got upset and argued with her to the point that a teacher had to get involved. The teacher’s question was to my son “How is HER mistake YOUR problem?” FYI: the classmate was asked to correct her name, but my son’s behavior prompted a phone call to me at work.

    Your coworker is acting like my 10 year old son. I think the Captain offers some great advice. I like the idea of just being silent and stopping what you’re doing until she moves on. Or you could ask her “How is MY work YOUR issue?” the answer is – it isn’t her issue. Stay strong!!!

    1. reminds me of this girl in third grade, I didn’t like to bring a sandwich because they always got soggy or stale, she got so mad that I didn’t eat a sandwich at lunch that one day she marched over and whipped open my lunch bag to see if I even brought one. My teacher at that point told her to mind her business.

      1. My brother and I were preparing to take some standardized test in school once, and we happened to be in the same room. So I noticed when the guy sitting next to my brother started telling him he was filling in his personal info wrong. The guy got louder and louder about it until the teacher came over. “He’s not putting his address in right!” the kid insisted.

        We lived on a very short cul-de-sac. Our address was “8 Smith Street”. Just 8. The kid couldn’t believe it was a real address.

      2. Funny…because my son hates sandwiches for the same reason. He actually brings dry cereal, buys milk and eats that for lunch. One of the boys in his class is outraged that we (his parents) let him get away with that. He literally complains to the teacher every day. I’m pretty sure she delivered the same line to this kid “How is HIS lunch YOUR issue?” She also put them at different tables which helps. 🙂

      3. I remember a lot of super-obnoxious self-appointed lunch policers in elementary and middle school. (I wasn’t one of them, but I did pay close attention to what other people brought so I could be sure I was packing things that wouldn’t attract attention.) I guess the charitable view is that these kids probably have parents who control their own eating pretty strictly, so it upsets them to see other kids “getting away with” things they’re not allowed to do themselves–not have a sandwich, eat dessert first, whatever.

    2. Ha! When I was thinking about sassy one liners for this bully, one of the first to come to me was “Goodness, did you get emotionally stunted in your tweens.” Thought I think this one would be better staying in your cranium, not all tweens or people with trouble maturing are jackasses (most of the time you’re more prone to fart jokes, IME).
      Still, most people don’t want to grow up to remind others, especially their colleagues, of the movie Mean Girls.
      Her attitude will catch up with her eventualy.

    3. Oh god my five year old does this ALL THE TIME. It’s become a joke with another parent, she parks in a place she’s not supposed to when picking her kid up and my son always comments on it. It’s really hard to explain to a five year old that while it’s important to follow the rules, is also important to mind your own beeswax.

    4. I agree with you, but I don’t recommend asking “how is my work your issue” to a micromanaging coworker. I once tried that and got a lecture on how my “sloppiness” in research was impacting the whole project. In a way I was lucky, because the person being a jerk to me wasn’t on my project – she really wanted to be, which is why she was always trying to nitpick me so she could show my boss why she deserved to have my job. But she didn’t have the experience or authority to make any assessment of my work. At one point I said, in a very flat tone, “Thanks for all of that feedback. I’ll be sure to let your boss know how grateful I am that you have so much free time to stand around and pay attention to my work”, and that scared her off from trying to bully me directly. But if we had shared a boss, she would have been more entitled to an opinion on the quality of my work so that could have backfired.

  6. ITA with the Captain. This person is a bully, I wonder why the senior techs aren’t calling her on her behaviour? Believe me, I know how difficult it can be to stand up to this sort of thing, but if you can keep your cool and keep your responses firm, but professional, that will stand you in much better stead if you do have to escalate it. But absolutely document everything, If it’s any consolation, there’s some research that says bullies typically target high-performing, popular people. It’s possible your bully sees you as a threat because you obviously have a rapport with the animals. Possibly if she spent more time looking inward and less time critiquing your performance, she, too, could be a star…

    1. Your co-worker is not a nice person, and seconding the keeping cool advice if possible. It might help if you have some breathing exercises or mental scripts that you can deploy to yourself in the moment to keep your cool and maintain a calm neutral expression. I usually make an effort to take one deep belly breath before I respond to keep my voice level when I’m stressed.

    2. Speaking by what I have seen in some university circles, worst case scenario is that with some instructors/guides/tutors, etc., is that if they aren’t to emotionally involved with the process, they won’t call out bad behaviors and may even condone them as a way to “toughen you up”, especially if they’ve been bullies themselves. The “bright side”, so to speak, is that Watchy Watcherson here might be setting herself up for some contempt if she’s acting so high and mighty.
      People talk! It’s better to be known as ‘the jittery one who works’ than ‘the conceated B word’, it’s not nice, but it happens.

  7. Absolutely use the word “hostile” as the Captain suggests, because staring at you and calling you out on your errors are definitely creating a *hostile working environment* for you, and it’s something your management (assuming they aren’t a horror-show of dysfunction) is going to want to nip in the bud. And just focus on the two issues – the hovering, and the public corrections – when you report this. Any other issues – whether legitimate, or bitch-eating-crackers – could weaken your argument or make it sound personal. But it’s very much a workplace problem that needs to be addressed by your management, stat.

    Also, please have these scripts that have worked for me with judgy friends/relatives without damaging relationships:

    “Thanks for that, but I’m all set for criticism for the day. Quota has been reached.”

    “I’m going to need you to put your [opinions/criticism] aside so I can focus on my work right now – do you mind?”

    “That’s sweet, but I already have a [boss, mother, mother-in-law].”

    I would also recommend saying something like “Do you need something else to do? You must be bored if you have time to watch me work!” – loudly & within earshot of these senior techs.

    1. Unfortunately, there is a strict legal definition for “hostile working environment,” and this isn’t it (Alison at Ask A Manager has a lot on this–it has to do with protected classes). It certainly is creating a TOXIC environment, though, and should be treated as the captain outlines above.

      1. Great point, though behavior doesn’t have to fit legal “hostile work environment” to be described as hostile, and that’s a word that will ping HR radar.

  8. Looks like your coworker just unlocked the Uber level of Jerkiness, LW. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that! I second Tea rocket in saying that this looks like the result of the coworker’s insecurity and/or her feeling threatened by your better performance (not that it excuses anything or should matter at all, but I personally find understanding the motivation of a hostile party helpful).

    I have a variation on the Captain’s excellent “wait-it-out” advice, but it should only be performed if you feel absolutely safe, as in there is zero chance of physical assault from this person: I propose the overt documentation technique. You can use your phone, but I would go for a pen and a notepad, me being an old-fashioned kind of gal. Every time your coworker approaches you to either watch or comment – you open your notepad and write down the date, time and her exact actions. Do so in a demonstrative fashion. The advantages of this technique are twofold: first, it creates a log you can later show your superiors, in case you escalate your complaints, demonstrating both the intensity of the behavior and the amount of time Coworker is wasting rather than doing her own work. Second, don’t be shy about telling Coworker exactly what it is you’re doing, if (most likely – when) she asks. In my experience, people, most notably – bullies (and she is being a bully), tend to back off in the face of evidence being openly gathered against them/ about their behavior. Plus, it’s a lot quicker than outwaiting her, in case you don’t have the time or the reserves of patience it requires.

    Whatever you choose to do – I sincerely wish you the best of luck in everything! You rock!

    1. Chiming in to agree that the Cap’s advice is spot-on and that, LW, oh my god this is such a gross situation and you should not be put in this position.

      I agree that documentation could (eventually) be useful is things continue, although I’m also hoping that Obnoxious Coworker will eventually curtail this behavior once it’s more explicitly called out via the scripts above.

      Either way, though, I have some concerns about a super-demonstrative approach to documenting things. I see the value in theory, but in practice I worry that it might provoke this particular bully, and ultimately muddy the waters in terms of who’s out of line. (“*I* was just trying to helpfully note that she was using the wrong grooming tool, but then *she* got all weird and noted it in a logbook.” That wouldn’t be a fair account of the situation, obviously, but it might be compelling to someone who doesn’t know the backstory.)

      It also sounds like this is happening frequently enough that exact dates and times aren’t strictly necessary in terms of conveying to higher-ups that there’s a problematic pattern. Even if you haven’t been collecting any of that data, I absolutely would raise it with your supervisor if your explicit “hey, stop it” requests aren’t respected.

      And in the meantime, I’ll be here with fingers crossed, hoping that you’ll soon be relieved of having to deal with this nonsense as you’re trying to go about your job.

      1. I wonder if a hybrid approach would work. Start with scripts as suggested for the first three infractions in a day, and then openly document with your notebook after that. Then the “she got all weird,” a legitimate concern with a person like this, maybe has a little less traction. Then you only have to say that you don’t even get your notebook out until she’s refused to listen to your directly spoken requests to leave you alone three times.

        It sucks you’re going through this. No one should have to put up with a merciless joykiller when they finally get the job they want.

  9. Goodness, you’re me!

    Definitely document, and definitely address it. Draw attention to it. Bring your mentor into it as well; they can back you up if your coworker tries to turn it around on you. In my situation I tried to suffer in silence and be the bigger person, which left me defenseless when Jerkface went to the boss and complained about me.

    I’ve since left that job, and when Jerkface tried to add me on LinkedIn I took great pleasure in hitting “ignore.”

  10. Wow. Coworker is being awful. Good for you for recognizing what they’re doing straight away–it isn’t good coworker behavior. I wish I’d sussed that out earlier with one of my coworkers–despite our equivalent positions, she’d take every opportunity of a mistake or flaw to lecture me and take me to task and even yell at me. All when it wasn’t even her place to do so. It’s not professional, and it’s not team-building to have someone doing that. I wish you the best in dealing with this!

  11. I would make sure the supervisor or senior trainer is involved in this ASAP because I suspect that this type of bully will not respond to you or your scripts (since she sees you as at best “equal” and quite possibly “inferior”). The behavior will only stop when the person who controls her evaluation or job says, “I need you to knock this behavior off or you will suffer a consequences” (e.g. not get a good evaluation, not be promoted, not even work here anymore, etc.).

    Most likely, she’ll actually stop doing it when someone with power above her tells her she has to stop. If she really can’t control herself, then that’s a different issue. I get your instinct to want to resolve it on your own or not “tattle.” But if you’ve already tried the reasonable scripts and they haven’t worked, then you can say that when you report this above you.

  12. “I realize that this is not a big deal.”

    This is a big deal! Very few people would be okay with being watched and treated unkindly. I think many of us love to give the benefit of the doubt since we know different people have different expectations. And as many CA letters show, most of us will be learning different norms for our whole lives.

    This person is not being respectful or considerate. We might be able to tease a close friend or colleague who we know well enough to know they will not take it personally. That’s not what’s happening here. It’s not okay with you and you get to say “Nope!” to all of it.

    Re: “Polite requests to allow my trainer to train me and correct any errors have been met with complete brush-offs and stories of what an amazing manager/student/daughter/sister she is, which clearly makes her more qualified to police me”

    Feel free to repeat “Please allow my trainer to train me.” even after being brushed off. You can even repeat her wording to show you’ve heard. “I hear you that you’re great as a manager. Let’s follow the process and allow my trainer to deal with that.” or “Great, I’ll discuss this with my trainer”

    One way to escalate is to address it directly. “I notice that you keep insisting on bringing this up when I’ve asked you not to. Why is that?” or “Is there a reason you feel your wishes outweigh mine?” Feel free to have a private discussion with your own manager on this one. Then you can say “I’ve discussed with manager and the process is to be trainer by Trainer.”

    After saying any of these these, you might say “I’m going to Start Work/Do something else/go to the bathroom now.” Then walk away immediately =)

    Hope this helps!!

    1. I agree – I mean, we all agree, but just to say it in so many words, this actually IS a big deal. Coworker is acting inappropriately and just really awful.

  13. Nthing that your coworker’s behavior is not ok. This isn’t a mildly-annoying quirk that’s setting off your pre-existing issues; this is hostile behavior that’s even worse for you than it might be for another person because of your history.

  14. “I realize that this is not a big deal.”

    LW, it is. I kind of imagine that your particular anxiety around this issue is making you underrate how bad the behavior is, but this is actually really shitty behavior from an employee. Any good manager would want to know about it and help to stop it. Most managers /will/ want to know that you’ve already tried to stop it yourself, however. But I just want to impress upon you that this is not your anxiety telling you lies. This is shitty coworker behavior.

    1. Seriously. Any adult who actually laughs at and points out other people’s mistakes has serious issues. That’s something I’d expect from an eight-year-old (and then I’d tell them to knock it off).

      1. 8 was the age I came up with, too! Adults don’t adt like that. Not nice, but perhaps the LW could point at that they are at a workplace, not a grade school, and such behaviour is inappropriate.

    2. Yes. And LW, chances are extremely high that all of your other co-workers are looking at this person and thinking “What an asshole.”

      Please talk to your supervisor. If this is the rare workplace where your co-worker’s behavior is not treated as the incompetent dysfunction that it is, then it’s a bad company (with or without your co-worker) and you should probably look elsewhere. But it’s far more likely that your boss and her bosses are wondering why a TRAINEE is behaving like such a shitpole.

  15. “I realize that this is not a big deal.”

    LW, it is. I kind of imagine that your particular anxiety around this issue is making you underrate how bad the behavior is, but this is actually really shitty behavior from an employee. Any good manager would want to know about it and help to stop it. Most managers /will/ want to know that you’ve already tried to stop it yourself, however. But I just want to impress upon you that this is not your anxiety telling you lies. This is shitty coworker behavior.

  16. My script for coworkers being obnoxious is “Dude.” And then staring.

    Coworker: HA HA, you did that wrong! Look, everybody, LW did that wrong!
    You: Dude. (pointed stare)

    Coworker: *hovers near you and neckbreathes like a weirdo*
    You: Dude. (pointed stare)

    If you need more emphasis, add an incredulous “Are you serious?”

    Coworker: You did that wrong! I saw you do that wrong!
    You: Thanks, coworker. Let’s leave that up to the supervisor, okay?
    Coworker: Excuse me, but I’m great and helping you suck less and blah blah…
    You: Dude. Are you serious right now?

    You’re casual, but you’re annoyed, and your coworker is being the giant baby here. Get that weirdness back to sender.

    1. Ah yes, the pointed ‘dude.’ Cousin to the flat Haxian ‘Wow” and close kin to the bored ‘Really?’ Very flexible in returning awkwardness to sender in a variety of situations!

      1. I’ve always preferred the head tilt, raised eyebrow, peer-over-the-glasses combo, combined with an incredulous “Seriously?”

  17. Another way to approach this with your trainer, if you’re not as comfortable directly calling it out/asking for backup, is to do it as a general check in — “Trainer, Coworker has expressed that they think I’m having trouble with X. I just wanted to get your take on it. Are you at all concerned about X?” The overwhelming odds are that no, your trainer is not concerned about X, because as you said, you are quite good! But that way, when Coworker does it again, you have, “Actually, I talked to Trainer about this, and they think I’m doing fine!” in your back pocket. And if it keeps up, you’ve already broached the subject with Trainer more casually, which might make breaking out Script #4 a bit easier – “Coworker is *still* staring over my shoulder, even though you’ve told me I’m doing fine….” (etc).

    1. (LW here)

      This is gold.

      I am not comfortable directly calling it out, so asking my room lead if they have any concerns about my performance is a good way of curtailing this behavior.

  18. I had a high school science teacher who was this kind of bully (small school, had him 3 times in 4 years): hovering over people not saying anything while we wrote tests. I luckily did not have the history of trauma that you do, so I was able to just ignore him and not let him unnerve me. What I’m trying to say is that those senior techs almost certainly notice and realize your fellow trainee is a raging asshole even though they may not know how deeply this is triggering you. Along with alerting your own supervisor/trainer and asking them to put a stop to it (because the bully is wasting time by hovering over you instead of concentrating on her own work,) if you can figure out which are the most fair minded ones among the senior tech, let them know, too. You don’t necessarily need to go into your history if you don’t want to, but a mild vent of, “ugh, it’s so annoying how she just stands there and waits for me to screw up, which is sometimes hard for me not to do under such scrutiny, and then gleefully announces it to the room,” might be enough to get them to stick up for you.

  19. Hey LW,

    I’m pretty sure I work in the same field as you (the last 13 years) and you’re right that there is a huge difference between a trainer watching you and a neurotic co-worker. While I think a lot of others have already hit some salient points. I would also add that you should move to another hood/work space. Distance will make her behavior more obvious and give you a buffer zone. Also get constructive feedback from your actual trainer in a one-on-one setting. Then I’d add in a little bit of the ‘ignore’ feature. Not saying to excuse her actions, but my guess is that she’s feeding off your engagement in her criticism. I’ve ignored more than a few people and blamed it on the noise of the hood/ventilators/critters. And stand your ground. I’m constantly amazed that our field perpetuates some kinds of bullies because they have great technical skills or were the ‘best we could get at the salary we’re offering’.

    Props to you and stay strong. I love this field and it breaks my heart that I’m struggling to find work (just moved overseas) because it has the most rewarding and personally fulfilling career path I ever could have imagined.

    1. LW here.

      Yeah, I’ve always tried to move my hood as far away from her as possible when I’m working.

      Lately, we’ve been working in close proximity because the strains we’re working with are in the same PIV racks. It’s a training moment, as my super sees it (and I’m appreciative of that; new strains are fascinating to me and fun to learn about, and I realize that we have to learn the same strains at the same time so as to maximize on efficiency), but the close proximity has become a source of competition to Annoying Co-Worker.

      I look forward to the day when out super sets us on totally different strains and/or moves us to new barrier rooms to help out.

      I’m so sorry that you’re struggling to find work. Hopefully you will find something fulfilling and exciting soon.

  20. I have a hard time explicitly stating my boundaries to others too, LW. One thing I do to get better at this, is I practice it in low stakes situations all the time. Like if someone is standing too close to me when there’s plenty of room, I’ll ask them to give me space. Then I do something nice for myself for making the attempt.

    Whenever you talk back to your rude coworker, buy your favorite food, or something else nice. You can’t control other people, but practicing standing up for yourself will make you a better person.

  21. LW, this gave me flashbacks. I have had this co-worker, and did not have a therapist to talk to about it. It was rough.

    I got hired at a big firm to support 3-4 VPs in a division as an Executive Administrative Assistant back in the days where you’d have to talk to people in France on the phone to book a hotel there, and they were just getting rid of their stashes of reams of mouldering carbon paper. They were also looking for a second person with the same job title and rank to support the other 3-4 VPs and the President of the division. I was there supporting all nine very busy people with zero complications for several months. Then they filled the second position with Asshat.

    Asshat determined that since she took over responsibility for the President and some of the elder VPs, and was slightly older than I, she outranked me. She also liked leaving for three hour lunches, to get her nails done, for hair appointments, to play golf, to meet her boyfriend for fun, etc., whereas I worked through most lunches and stayed late until I felt caught up. I also sent e-mails to my friends during lunches and after hours before heading home. (This was not forbidden, but if I had abused the privilege or not been doing my work, that may have changed. I got good performance reviews, etc.)

    Asshat was a bully, and her boss wasn’t typically around, so she wasn’t being monitored and often tried to dump her most hated tasks on me. I usually was ahead of my work and would assist her, but it got more and more obvious that she was getting paid the same as I to only work about 25 hours a week and I was back to doing the same amount of work as I had done before she was hired, i.e., talking care of all nine people again. So one day I told her “no” when she wanted me to do her dictation, because I was busy with my own assignments. She had to cancel her mid-day golfing plans and was PISSED. So she waited until I left (which should have been a clue she was up to some shit, as she was normally leaving vapor trails out the door at 4:30 or so), rummaged around in my drawer to find my assigned password (we didn’t get to choose our own), broke into my computer, printed out my personal e-mails (which were clearly time-stamped as being sent on personal time) and tried to get me fired for an e-mail policy we didn’t have.

    I wish I could say this backfired on her, but I had previously commented to HR that Asshat was persistent about pushing work onto me and clarified that she was not my superior or my boss and thus it was not OK for her to pretend otherwise. (Asshat didn’t like that, either.)

    When Asshat thought she had some dirt n me, she ran to HR and tattled. Alas, although HR was sympathetic–especially when I pointed out that I did not understand why I was able, as a brand new employee learning as I went, to care for all 9 people for months on end without demanding others do my work for me, whereas Asshat could not manage to do the same job with half the work load–Asshat continued to work in the same position with a mere slap on the wrist for snooping in my computer (because our boss really liked her and they were age cohorts and had mutual acquaintances), and I was offered an allegedly similar position in the same office on a different floor and different division. It was not similar, it was boring (from fashion to industrial flooring), I hated it and had the boss from Office Space as my new senior boss. Sucked. And Asshat soon got a junior secretary to abuse, as opposed to someone equal to her in rank and salary who got sick of her shit pretty quickly (like me), and Asshat is probably still at that company to this day.

    The good news is that I documented what was going on with Asshat when I noticed a pattern. In other words, if Asshat left work early, I wrote that down. If she then asked me to do some of her work the next day, I wrote that down. I also consulted the employee handbook and found that I was not doing anything wrong, which helped when I went to HR.

    Document, document, document, and figure out how to reduce any personal reward or amusement your tormentor is getting out of bugging you. Update your resume, while you’re at it. Just in case. Double-check the employment handbook and/or workplace rules.

    My guess is that this person feels intimidated by your competence and insecure about their own skills, and their way of looking better than you, their closest peer at the same level of training, is to pretend you are a fuck-up. I’d be tempted to ask how your Butthead manages to competently perform all their duties while being so fixated on every aspect of your work. Seriously. “Butthead, how is it even possible that you are doing your assignment competently when you nowhere near your own work station but are instead over here in MY work space hassling me by breathing down my neck and offering unsolicited and unwanted advice about MY assignment? You’re like a buzzing horsefly all up in my face and I do not like it, as you well know, as we have discussed your intrusive behavior and comments before. How about you focus on your own work and leave me alone to do my job?”

    I mean, JFC, I’d want to accidentally drop something on her shoes. Like animal poo.

    P.S. Your mom was awful. I am sorry. 😦 Hugs if you want them.

  22. You might also tell the coworker “you know, the way you stare at me is starting to get a little creepy.” You might tell your supervisor, “the way coworker stares at me and follows me is getting a little creepy.”

    1. I like this! I feel like, with anything more ‘hey, it bugs me that you do that’, the co-worker is probably going to Activate Condescension and go on about what a great mentor/manager/etc. they are. With the assumption (whether genuine or no) that the LW simply doesn’t like hearing about their own mistakes, but needs to have them pointed out anyway. The word ‘creepy’, on the other hand, has a ton of weight attached to it and often has the power to make people back off. Very very few people want to be labeled creepy.

  23. “My sandwich today is tuna salad if you’re keeping notes on that, too.”

    Cap’n, that line is, without question, the best thing to happen to me today, and I had a pretty good day already.

    LW, lots of luck!

  24. You could also say “Really? I’m doing this wrong? Let’s get the trainer over here and check it out. Right now” Say this fairly loudly and then call the trainer over. Say “Asshat here says I should be doing this this way but you told me to do it this other way, so I wanted to double-check.” Just throw her under the bus.

  25. This all sounds great, but can we also flash the AskAManager signal into the sky for Alison Green?? I always like to hear her take for any work-related issues…

  26. This co-worker has a bad habit of openly watching me and waiting for me to screw something up. Then she loves to make a big deal about it and “correct” my errors. Laughs loudly and points it out to the senior techs.

    That is a big deal! That is asshole behaviour and would make anyone (literally ANYONE) extremely uncomfortable. It is not just your past (and let me just say wtf, LW’s mom, wtf) making your jerkbrain think that now is actually then, that is seriously mean, bullying behaviour from coworker. It is them, not you.

  27. This place I worked once, there was this guy out in the front office, I think he was in charge of ordering stuff, and when he ran into slow time he took it on himself to come out into the shop and tell us how to do our jobs although he had no real authority. One of the unspoken rules in a machine shop is, when in doubt, grab a broom. This idiot kept yapping at me to use both hands instead of one holding the dustpan, although I could probably sweep better with 1 hand than he with 2. I told him to shut up, but he kept forgetting. At break time he stuck his head in the break room and chided us for being idle, and I informed him that between breaks we actually did something. He left. Later we were going to have some visitors and I saw him hassling a fellow for wearing a grimy shirt, so I pops up and says “Mike, why don’t you lend him your nice white shirt and tie and you go hide in a closet or something. “Angiportus, haven’t you got work to do?” “Haven’t you got work to do out at your desk??” He evaporated. Finally–perhaps the same week–he comes out and starts hassling me abut the broom again. I had Had It. When he turned his back, I swung that broom and WHAP!! right in the ass! He kind of bowed forward and then starts yelling about he he’s going to shove the broom up my ass and I just took a firmer hold on it and said “You”ll try!!!” and he slunk away. And he walked wide of me after that!
    I still don’t approve much of violence, and if doing it over again I would have gone over his head. But you should have seen his midsection curve forward, and I didn’t even use my full force, not wanting to break the broom.

  28. My cousin and I were trying to buy a gift coupon for someone. She kept misspelling MY name to the person filling out the form. And correcting me when I tried to correct her. In the end she started laughing. But she still always Canada-splains me when I post something on FB like “I’m so excited my gay friends just adopted a baby! How can anyone be against her getting a loving home” with comments like, “Oh, is that still news in the States?”

    1. Tell her that she can understand how she wouldn’t know what’s going on in the States; she must be terrible preoccupied with all the news about how terribly Canada treats First Nations people, especially the police ignoring crimes (up to and including murder) against First Nations women.

  29. If it gives you any comfort, LW, the senior techs probably think this person is a grade A glass bowl and roll their eyes inwardly when she does this. It hasn’t escaped their notice that she’s a bully and a jerk.

  30. I know everybody (up to and including the good Captain herself) has said to document; the only suggestion I would add is don’t wait until you get to step 4 to start documenting things on your own.
    If you escalate the issue to your trainer, it’s helpful to be able to point to specific incidents (and how you tried to resolve them). If nothing else, being able to refer to specific incidents can help to keep your co-worker from shrugging off your complaints as general over-sensitivity.

  31. On the animals. It doesn’t have to be a shortcoming that you are anxious. With prey animals, that sometimes makes them feel safer. Even hunters (cats and dogs) are sensitive to humans you can whisper “hay darlin’ I’m nervous, like you are. ever met an asshole like this? let’s vibe on the comfort together..” (or whatever your mojo is on that). get it going and be with the critter and zone if inclined on the judgemental jerk. It isn’t about her and that’s her problem. May you have a peaceful place (under the stairs in the stairwell?) to breathe and break.

  32. If you don’t get a chance to document the stuff during the course of the day as it happens, document it at the end of the day while it’s still fresh in your mind. My favorite tool is a Notepad file on Windows; the F5 key inserts the current date and time. Or if you don’t have the energy to write about it but are okay talking, there may be audio note programs that could be helpful. Or a locked-down Twitter account. Or LiveJournal. The important thing is to find a method that’s easy for you which lets you put in the details that also gets a sense of when it was happening, so that if/when it comes time to make a formal complaint, the information will be there to go through. Even if it’s in a less-than-ideal format.

    You may think in the moment that you’ll always remember the details of the harassment, but details and times will start to blur together into a great big ball of unhappiness, even without pre-existing trauma to feed off of. (My goddaughter had the Internship From Hell this summer, and at some point we may go back through the chatroom logs to assemble a coherent narrative of What The Actual Shit, Mizzou.)

  33. LW, you have 100% of my sympathies. While my mother never threatened us with hidden cameras growing up, she did tell me that all of my friends were spying on me and reporting to her. Which made it very hard to trust the few friends I had, and even harder to make new ones. I also have massive trust issues and anxiety even now.

    I also had a previous job with a nitpicky co-worker who seemed to constantly be watching for me to screw up. (Except the target wasn’t always me–anyone who was at her same level or below who was hired after her shifted back and forth between being her confidante and being her least favorite person. And whoever the least favorite was THAT week or whatever got accused of laziness, bad work habits, messiness, being too slow to complete tasks, etc. And you knew without a doubt that she and the confidante were whispering about you. It was very anxiety-provoking.)

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with the same stuff. I don’t have answers, beyond what CA said. Just a lot of empathy.

  34. I have questions for the LW and commenters.

    When your co-workers tries to make jokes at your expense to a senior tech, what does the senior tech do? If they’re laughing along, my guess is that they see you and co-worker as close friends and think everything’s a-okay. If they’re not, they’re probably aware of the problem but are not sure how to solve it.

    Saying something to both of them together when it happens might clarify as well as point the senior tech in the right direction. Something like “I don’t appreciate being laughed at” or “I don’t think it’s cool to point out a co-worker’s mistakes and laugh at them” or whatever wording you feel comfortable with. Oh! That’s a good one: “I’m not comfortable with this.”

    And express the behavior you want, like, “I’m not comfortable with a fellow trainee looking over my shoulder, especially if the outcome is bringing any mistakes to a trainer to laugh about. It doesn’t really set up a collegial atmosphere, right? Our jobs right now are to learn as much as possible, and ridiculing students isn’t really conducive to learning. Trainer, I’d like to work with you directly. And co-worker, since we’re both just learning I think it’s better if you don’t watch me and try to learn from me. Can you work more independently? And if you need help, just go to a trainer instead of me?”

    I know it’s conventional wisdom to document stuff, but I’d like to re-examine that. When has documenting ever worked? I mean, I think it’s a great idea to document things for yourself, so that you remember that you aren’t crazy and that, yes, this person did come watch you work 3 times yesterday and all 3 times you asked her to stop.

    But given that the thing employers want most are employees who don’t cause them any extra work, is documenting likely to help? In my experience, HR isn’t “fair” so much as they are “let’s tell both employees to stop making trouble — that’s what will protect us the most.” Walking in with a documented list of incidents might spell “impending lawsuit” and it seems like you’d be treated as the person most likely to cause trouble for the company.

    More and more, I feel like work is one big popularity contest. I don’t feel like anyone is actually interested in taking the time to figure out a toxic situation. They just want to brush it under the rug as quickly as possible. So your best line of defense is to keep directly telling your coworker to stop watching you (because that doesn’t make work for anyone except your coworker) and to befriend your trainers.

    Like, the trainers are also nervous and want to do well at their jobs, too. And they want to be proud of you. So anything you can do to let them know you love your job, and any way you can display that you’re serious about learning it, and any camaraderie you can develop is all to the good.

    I like all the advice that suggests calm, direct communication. And I love the advice about independently checking in with your trainer and letting them know you want to get this right so can they observe and make sure you’ve got it. So many of these scripts are wonderful.

    I just wonder if the old-fashioned “document” advice really works. It seems like it’s using the “justice system” model for work and ignores the reality that no one at work is paid to make things fair, nor do most people feel they even want to get involved in making things fair. They never feel like they have all the facts no matter what, and they just want the issue to go away as quickly and painlessly as possible. I feel like we need to develop a new mental model of work, but I’m not sure what it should be.

  35. Major tip for when complaining about a coworker to someone in charge: use phrases that show the problem is HER, not you making the complaint.

    I usually use something like, “I just want to do my job well and don’t understand why she’s making this difficult. I have already asked her politely to stop it, but it hasn’t resolved the situation. I don’t want it to escalate cuz confronting her while I’m working/learning doesn’t feel very professional, so I would really appreciate your help on the matter. I just want to do my job.”

    I like these phrases because it puts the focus on the other person and the fact that THEY’RE causing trouble, not you. It also appeals to them by asking them for their help and shows you want to be professional, not have arguments, which shows a good priority. The focus on “I just want to do my job” focuses on what you want to do rather than making it personal or about how awful the coworker is.

    Good luck LW!

  36. Just saying all the advice here seems good, and to reiterate that I don’t recommend even slightly violent means like I used. Good luck to all in struggles like these.

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